Pole Road Bridge

Flowing almost due south from its source near the Smokies crest, Deep Creek runs through the heart of the North Carolina side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The contrast between the creek’s high-altitude environs and its lower elevations approaching the Tuckasegee River is striking. The upper reaches of Deep Creek Trail, starting at roughly 4,800 feet, offer tangible evidence of that. People tubing, fishing, hiking, jogging, cycling, camping, picnicking and horseback riding in and along the stream near its park exit would hardly recognize the creek up high. For this month’s hike, I’m recommending an out-and-back excursion of about eight miles that allows you to explore the watershed’s higher, more rugged terrain.

From the trailhead along Newfound Gap Road, you hike down the trail into a deep, dark forest. A few switchbacks make the sharp initial descent from the trailhead much easier than it would be otherwise. There’s no sign or sound of a creek or even a tributary at the outset, but within a mile the trail crosses a headwaters branch before Deep Creek itself emerges.

Soon you encounter a challenge: a merger of the trail and creek with the path’s continuation on land not immediately apparent, partly because of large fallen trees across the stream. You’ll need to briefly walk on rocks into shallow water, and then work your way through the blowdowns. After negotiating the latter, you should be able to spot the trail’s land route to the left.

Back on dry land, the trail soon rises well above a bolder Deep Creek. Here you can enjoy some fine views of the rushing creek, dotted with churning whitewater cascades. In an area where the trail is narrow and overgrown, you may spot some goldenrods in bloom this time of year. Soon the trail drops back to creek level, where Deep Creek is now roaring as it charges through a green gorge carved over the eons.

About four miles from the trailhead, Deep Creek Trail arrives at a junction with Fork Ridge Trail, just above the descriptively named Poke Patch backcountry campsite. (Deep Creek must be forded here if you wish to hike Fork Ridge Trail.) From the looks of it, the essentially flat, open camping area receives plenty of use and perhaps some abuse. No chance that pokeweed or anything else could now grow in the large, blackened area around the massive rock fire ring in the middle of the camp; a de facto scorched-earth policy seems to be in effect here. But nearby are a couple of sitting logs that provide a fine lunch spot. Because Poke Patch lies at an elevation of about 3,000 feet, you’ll need to do some serious climbing on your return to the trailhead.

Trail: Deep Creek.

Trailhead: Newfound Gap Road, 1.7 miles south of Newfound Gap.

Length: 7.8 miles round trip.

Difficulty: Strenuous.

Ben Anderson is author of Smokies Chronicle: A Year of Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (blairpub.com).

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